Flyers have big questions to address in offseason

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Flyers have big questions to address in offseason

Traditionally, the Flyers hold their “break-up” day after the playoffs in the morning or mid-afternoon.

Not this year.

For the first time in decades -- literally -- the Flyers will "break up" Friday night as players, coach Craig Berube and general manager Paul Holmgren will offer their final take on the regular season and playoffs.

The Flyers' lack of quality depth, especially on defense, was badly exposed by the New York Rangers during the playoffs. Because of that, more pressure will be placed on the organization to develop a young, puck-moving defensemen who can contribute big minutes.

Alas, that has been the Flyers’ biggest downfall on defense since the days of Chris Therien.

As usual, the Flyers are facing a number of issues heading into what now figures to be a long summer:

1. What becomes of Holmgren?
There’s a reason why Ron Hextall came back to the organization and a reason why you no longer hear Hexy’s name mentioned anywhere else in the NHL when a GM spot opens up, including Washington, recently. The assumption is that Hextall will replace Holmgren, sooner rather than later.

Holmgren is entering the final year of his contract, but a number of NHL sources believe he will step aside and return to amateur scouting. As one source noted, scouting is what Holmgren has always liked best. He misses the relationship with that side of hockey.

If Holmgren elects to fulfill his final year, the obvious question is how much influence will he have in any decision if Hextall is going to succeed him?

2. Steve Downie
Hands down, this was the worst trade Holmgren made this season. The Flyers gave Colorado their best penalty-killing forward in Max Talbot for Downie, who struggled after a concussion in his first game, save for a brief spurt of decent play. Toward the end of the season, Downie basically fell apart with at least one more concussion and poor play.

Downie is unrestricted and won’t be re-signed.

3. Vinny Lecavalier
The Flyers’ marquee free-agent acquisition last summer quickly became the club’s biggest nightly lineup obstacle when it became apparent Lecavalier did not fit into Berube's top three center spots.

Lecavalier is too prominent a player to be reduced for a fourth-line center role and his $4.5 million salary is dead weight on the Flyers' salary cap because they are overpaying for a guy who averaged less than 11 minutes a game. The fact Lecavalier has four more years on his contract makes his signing even worse. It’s not fair to him or the club, and his salary is near impossible to move.

Lecavalier played poorly much of the second half and is believed to have been suffering from a back injury. Regardless, his situation needs to be addressed.

Bottom line: The Flyers made a splash for a player who did not fit without removing one of their younger centers and now they are paying a harsh price.

4. The defense
Andrew MacDonald made the defense more mobile and helped Luke Schenn in his development as a partner. Yet MacDonald, like so many others on the blue line, had a poor playoff series against the Rangers.

The Flyers need more speed on the back end. Kimmo Timonen is no longer a No. 1. If Timonen decides to come back, he has to accept a far lesser role and cap-friendly salary.

The Flyers have tried in vain forever to get that stud D-man that makes all the difference. They had it briefly in Chris Pronger, but post-concussion syndrome ended his career.

The club says it will not pursue Shea Weber one final time this summer. Matt Niskanen is an interesting free agent on the Penguins who would help the Flyers. Regardless, the club needs to quickly develop its young talent -- Shayne Gostisbehere should get a long look in camp -- before the window closes on a team for which some of the younger players are ready to win now.

The lack of quality depth on defense when a player gets injured remains appalling and needs to be resolved.

All of these issues fall at the feet of Holmgren, who will be under pressure from club chairman Ed Snider to find reasonable solutions if he remains general manager next season.

Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny stick around as Flyers send 10 to Phantoms

Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny stick around as Flyers send 10 to Phantoms

Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are still alive.

The Flyers reduced their roster to 39 players on Thursday, assigning 10 players to the Phantoms for their separate training camp, which opens on Friday in Lehigh Valley.

There were no major surprises among today’s cuts.

Goaltenders Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon, both of whom were outstanding during exhibition play, report to the Phantoms as the No. 1 and No. 2 candidates in net.

Stolarz had a 1.36 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in 88 minutes of game action. Lyon had a 0.67 GAA and .972 save percentage in 90 minutes of playing time.

Together, they teamed up for the 2-0 victory on Wednesday against the Devils (see 10 observations).

Also assigned were defensemen Robert Hagg and Reece Wilcox, plus forwards Radel Fazleev, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Tyrell Goulbourne, Corban Knight, Danick Martel and Mark Zengerle.

After four games in three nights, the entire camp roster had a complete off day on Thursday.

Sanheim and Provorov have stood out on defense with the latter virtually certain to make the team.

Konecny was very impressive in exhibition play on Wednesday (see story), and will be given a long leash in camp because of the competition at forward.

Both he and Provorov are just 19 and can only go back to junior if they don’t make the final cut with the Flyers.

Schultz injury
Wednesday’s announcement that veteran defenseman Nick Schultz would miss four to seven days with a lower body injury — a minor MCL sprain of the knee, according to sources — means extra opportunity for several younger defensemen.

Remember, Radko Gudas still is not 100 percent, but getting close to it with his right wrist fracture (see story). The two benefactors here could be Sanheim and Sam Morin. Provorov was going to be around until the very end, anyway.

The Flyers have four preseason games remaining. Schultz is expected to return for at least one of the final two games.

Inside Golf
The weekly 30-minute segment will feature the Flyers Celebrity Golf Tournament and the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation when it airs on CSN on Sunday, Oct. 2, at 10 a.m.

Harry Donahue visited Trump National Golf Course in Pine Hill, New Jersey, earlier this month to catch up with the Flyers. Others on hand are Mark Messier and ESYHF President Scott Tharp, plus Snider Hockey Chairman of the Board Bill Whitmore to learn about Snider Hockey.

The event raised over $1.6 million. You can catch the broadcast on CSN on Oct. 3 and Oct. 5 at 4 p.m. It will also air on TCN on Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. and Oct. 3 at 5 p.m.

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front off a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a real problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more enjoyment is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.